Barnaby Gunning Studio
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202 | Nutmeg House

This new house is built on the southern face of Shipton Hill near Bridport in West Dorset. It was constructed as a replacement for an end-of-life sprawling bungalow. The house is at once innovative, brave and unusual as well as homely, discreet and practical. It is no accident that at the heart of the building, a secret laundry chute allows the kids to fling their dirty clothes down into a large rubber basket in the utility room below. The house was built to a stringent budget but to a high level of craftsmanship and with generosity of scale and proportion and substantial investment in the building fabric. Our clients sourced local stone, reclaimed doors, and eclectic loose furniture bringing a hip, urbane edge to their dream house in the countryside. 

The site, approximately 2 miles from the sea, commands superb panoramic views across the countryside to Lyme Bay. At the rear it is sheltered by a coppice of mature trees and by the rising hillside. From the outset it was clear to us that the house should be designed to weather quickly, bedding itself into the trees and landscape behind.

Our clients were looking for a cost-effective, energy efficient, but generously sized new family home and as we talked through possible design approaches, our sense that the house in some way belonged to the trees behind it and a desire to get as much internal space as possible from as little building exterior led us to the idea that the basic form of the house should be a gentle ellipse of untreated timber aligned along an east-west axis with living rooms and bedrooms opening out to the south and more sheltered spaces looking out into the kitchen garden and hill behind.


In design development we became interested in the family of curves known as super-ellipses which are exemplified by the Arne Jacobsen/Piet Hein table for Fritz Hansen. A useful property of these forms of curve is that they permit a balance to be struck between the constant width of a rectangle and efficient curvature of an ellipse additionally, the proportion of the super-ellipse remains the same as its perimeter thickens meaning that it can be consistently subdivided into equal sized segments on both the internal and external faces.


From a planning perspective, demolition and replacement of the existing bungalow provided the opportunity to create a 30% larger house which substantially decreased the built footprint on the site, creating more garden on the southern side and moving the building back into the hill.  In view of the house’s design and the choice of materials, West Dorset District Council's planning committee and the local parish council in Shipton Gorge were unanimous in their support of our client's application. Through the course of the application process, our design evolved with the creation of an inverted barrel-curved roof which emphasises the plan shape of the house whilst concealing an extensive set of photovoltaic and solar hot water panels in its valley.


Site geology investigations led to the adoption of a raft foundation, with the house engineered as a structural timber frame with load-bearing perimeter walls and a central spine.  Composite timber and steel posi-joists run north south to create the first floor structural and east west to form the roof curve. Internally, stud wall thicknesses were set at a heftier than usual 150mm giving the building a real sense of solidity.

Energy saving

Early design advice from local environmental engineers Brooks Devlin underlined the importance of investing in the building fabric and led to the specification of a highly insulated ground slab, external walls and roof build up based on passive house detailing. A high performance pro-clima Intello vapour control layer was used throughout and the property is the first UK house to use Auraplus triple glazed windows from Rationel achieving average window U-values of 0.83.

In the summer cross ventilation through the house allows cooler air to be drawn from the shaded northern side, through the rear rooms and up through the central corridor.

With the exception of three pendant lights over the dining table, low energy fittings are used throughout the property. Alphaled LED downlights provide most of the lighting with dimmable fittings in the kitchen and dining area and non-dimmable fittings elsewhere.

Energy generation:

The low thermal conductivity of the building fabric and its exceptional air-tightness are complemented by a heat recovery system and solar panels for both hot water supply and power generation. The large area of south facing roof made installation of separate photovoltaic and solar hot water panels easy to achieve, the latter providing copious hot water for most of the year, the former producing a peak output of 2.59kW.


The vast majority of the materials used in the house were sourced from within 40 miles of the site and the house transformed into a workshop in which most of the built in joinery was fabricated. FSC and PEFC certified timbers were used for all of the main structural elements and the external cladding sourced via a local sawmill from managed estates in southwest England.


Untreated English oak defines the external appearance of the house. Waney edged timber boards were stripped of bark and sapwood, retaining an uneven exposed edge. These boards lap eachother around the building running clockwise on the ground floor and anticlockwise on the upper floor. As boards pick up sunlight, the shadowed edges on one level contrast with the illuminated edges of the floor above.

Portland stone slabs dress the entrance hall leading to the a polished concrete screed which extends through most of the ground floor. Oak flooring in the television room and painted pine boards to the stairs and upper floor lend a different tone to the quiter rooms.


Barnaby Gunning, Ed Liu.

Main Contractor: Mike Parsons, Parsons Building & Construction

Master Carpenter and Joiner: John Boyd, Johno's Carpentry & Joinery

Additional Joiners: Armando Lopez Garcia, John Ridout, Neil Watt, Rex Johnson, Patrick O'Dowd, Jake Reilly.

Structural Engineer: PCRM Consultancy

Structural Timber: Crendon Timber Engineering

Sap Calculations & EPC Certification: Thermal & Acoustic Solutions Ltd